by Onyeka Nwelue
A cold night. A starry lit street of Paris. Just close to Pigale metro station. There is a famous music venue called La Cigale. Last year, almost the same time last year, Nneka was on that stage, serenading the cascades of the strings of her slim, beautiful guitar.
Tonight, the queue is long. Everyone is freezing and shivering in the cold. We are all waiting to go in and watch the Queen, Asa play.
An hour to the slated time for the concert to begin, the entire auditorium of La Cigale, was filled to the brim. From the top to down. People were seated and many standing. Tickets were sold out, I am sure. The entire hall was jampacked.
Two beautiful fair-skinned ladies, one with a huge afro and the other with more of a pony tail appear on stage; one draped in black and the other, wearing white. They lit two candles. And they begin to sing. Then after their first song, they introduce themselves as Ibeyi, the French-Cuban musical duo consisting of twin sisters, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. For some minutes, they were in charge of the stage and carried everyone along. They don’t disappoint, but it is obvious that everyone is there because of Asa, so they are all waiting eagerly until it is time for Asa to appear on stage.
When she does, she bursts into one of her popular numbers, Fire on the Mountain and then tells us that the new album, Bed of Stone was recorded twice. She says the album was not satisfying at first, so it had to be re-recorded. Asa’s sense of humour is electrifying, as much as her performance. Maybe, people laugh at whatever she says because this is Asa? Maybe what she says is not funny? But the truth is that throughout the entire night, Asa is able to captivate her fans.
In the spirit of music, she plays Satan Be Gone, Eyo, Bed of Stone, Allelluia, Society, all from the new album and over fifteen other songs from the previous albums. In her tilted Frenglish, Asa breaks into different narratives to explain her existence in the French society and how the society has been able to support her. One funny story is how the song, The One That Never Comes was written.
In her own words, she had to fly to the US to write it, because she couldn’t find a French man to fall in love with. She says, ‘Really, French men?’ And the hall bursts into laughter.
Asa has the ability to be a comedian, too. And also a great actress. Maybe, she needs to try. Even when she covers Beyonce’s Halo, she does that effortlessly. However, her fans are not happy with that. They groan, but she doesn’t care, she finishes the song and again, begins to sing her own songs.
“This band is touring with me for the third time,” Asa says of her all white-band. “They play with me because they love my music. Not because of the money.”
The response from the audience can make any musician feel ontop the heavens. For the song Beautiful, Asa remembers that the song was written for her mother, who she praises on stage and then, calling upon Ibeyi to come perform with her. The three sing like angels, if angels sing. What also is exciting is the fact that Asa is able to tell us how long she’s known the twin sisters: since they were young.
“Now they’ve grown into beautiful women,” she says.
At the end, Asa closed the concert with the song, Bamidele. An amazing night that I will never forget. One that makes Paris, again, the capital of beautiful music.
Onyeka Nwelue is award-winning author of The Abyssinian Boy (DADA Books, 2009) and Burnt (Hattus, 2014). He’s currently Professor of African Studies and Literature at Instituto d’Amicis, Puebla in Mexico.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.